I Was Wrong. Ish.

In early December, I wrote a post that generated the most comment activity on this blog…so far.

I created a set of rules; guidelines for what a binder should bind if left to his or her own devices. I’ll reproduce the list below for easy reference, embarrassing though it is.

The Rules

  • Bind books in English if you live in an Anglophone country
  • Follow the flag: an axiom in the book trade with few exceptions. Ex. US author, book must be published in the US.
  • Is the author still in print? You’re on the right track.
  • Were you forced to read the book in school? This is a good sign.
  • Is the author or illustrator alive? Don’t risk it.
  • Do not bind books on books, collecting, reference books, or anything of the sort.
  • Avoid Franklin Library and Easton Press.
  • Is the book signed or inscribed by the author? Do not bind.
  • Does the book have the original dust jacket? Do not bind.
  • Is the book collectible in original condition?

I was wrong.

At the time, I had the collecting market in 20th and 21st century first editions on my brain. That’s been part of my day job for 14 years so far, so you’ll have to forgive me. It’s a kind of brainwashing. Forget first editions (not ALWAYS, but for the moment). I know design binders love fine press books. I am aware that binders love to sink a needle into fresh signatures of quality paper. Certainly, that is one reason to love fine press books. But what about the content? I’m fussy.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the upcoming InsideOUT exhibit (thank you for changing the name!). In order to do that, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at fine press books, including a painfully brief visit to the Fine Press Book Fair. I have concluded that I should toss out most of the above. I still think Franklin Library and Easton Press should be shunned. I still believe you should not bind books on books, binding, printers, typographers, and the like, unless for your personal collection. I still think you should bind books in the language of the country where you practice. I’ll add that if any of you bind yet another copy of Fleurs de Mal, I’m going to puke. Binding that title isn’t a requirement for becoming a binder, is it? It sure seems like it. Please stop.

Anyway, contemporary fine press books; I think I’m starting to “get” them. I’m still pretty opinionated (stay tuned for the inevitable I Was Wrong, part 2 post). There still has to be a magical marriage of typography, layout, art, and text to make me care. If the binding is just right in design and craftsmanship, I’ll melt. One book in the InsideOUT catalog hit me just right. I’ve entered the lottery for purchase of the bindings, which occurs on May 14th.

I’m pretty excited about the lottery. I’ve commissioned bindings (which aren’t ready yet), but I’ve never purchased one. A lottery may seem like a weird way to make my first purchase, if I am so lucky as to have my request for that binding drawn before anyone else’s. I feel like I’m going about my entry into collecting backwards. Don’t most collectors start with buying bindings from a dealer? Maybe I’ll do that one day, too.

 

What to Bind Next: The Rules

I’ve noticed a fundamental problem in the world of design binding. Please correct me if I am wrong.

The problem I perceive is that, other than commissions and set book competitions, binders often do not know what to bind. At the moment, the world of design binding has a very tenuous connection to the much wider world of book collecting. This situation puts the design binder, and the future of designer binding, at a distinct disadvantage. As the pool of collectors of design bindings has shrunk (I have been told that this is the case), the number of book collectors has increased.

I imagine that design binders must constantly experiment and refine techniques in order to execute commissions and show their work with confidence in their craftsmanship and design skills.  Presumably, one’s bindery is also a laboratory. Most binders I know have a shelf of books they want to bind “when they have time,” books that were successful experiments, or books that have been returned once an exhibition has ended. The problem with experimentation and practice, no matter how successful, is that it represents a significant expenditure of time and materials that a binder cannot really afford. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to recoup some of those “losses” by selling your books? I’m sure this has occurred to every binder on the planet.

I may be able to help a bit by providing a different perspective.

What I propose is a set of general guidelines (The Rules) to help a binder select books to bind, and an on-going series of posts on specific titles and editions that might be appropriate. The selections I make will not be based on my personal taste, but on my experience selling antiquarian and collectible books for well over a decade. I know what people buy. We can like the books or not, but we all have to make a living.

The Rules

  • Bind books in English if you live in an Anglophone country
  • Follow the flag: an axiom in the book trade with few exceptions. Ex. US author, book must be published in the US.
  • Is the author still in print? You’re on the right track.
  • Were you forced to read the book in school? This is a good sign.
  • Is the author or illustrator alive? Don’t risk it.
  • Do not bind books on books, collecting, reference books, or anything of the sort.
  • Avoid Franklin Library and Easton Press.
  • Is the book signed or inscribed by the author? Do not bind.
  • Does the book have the original dust jacket? Do not bind.
  • Is the book collectible in original condition?

It is the last item on the list that flummoxes anyone not deeply immersed in the antiquarian and collectible book trade. I hope my series on that topic will be helpful.

Another axiom in the book trade is to buy the best condition you can afford. As binders, you have a distinct advantage over collectors in this regard. You are looking for copies of collectible editions in virtually unsalable condition. No dust jacket (often 90% or more of the value of a modern book); no problem. Original binding a mess, shaken, cocked, sprung signatures, hideous bookplates, or unsightly inscriptions? No problem. You’re a binder. You’re going to take the book apart anyway. You know what you can fix and what you can’t. As long as the text block is really clean, including the edges (no library stamps or remainder marks), and the book doesn’t smell (seriously, this is a deal killer), you are golden. Best of all, because the book is a mess, it will be really inexpensive.

Then all you have to do is design and execute a fantastic binding. You know. In your spare time.